|LC: Speech by SCMA in moving the Second Reading of the Legislative Council (Amendment) Bill 2011
Following is the speech (English translation) by the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Mr Stephen Lam, in moving the second reading of the Legislative Council (Amendment) Bill 2011 in the Legislative Council meeting today (June 8):
I move the Second Reading of the Legislative Council (Amendment) Bill 2011 (the Bill).
The Bill provides for the filling of any vacancy in the membership of the Legislative Council (LegCo) arising during the term of office of the LegCo in any geographical constituency (GC) or District Council (second) functional constituency (DC (second) FC) by a replacement mechanism. Such vacancy will be filled by a person from a precedence list compiled in the last general election. The first person eligible for replacement is the first candidate who has not yet been elected in the list with the largest number of remainder votes in the last general election. If the candidate concerned has died, or is now disqualified or does not wish to serve, the second person from the precedence list, i.e. the first unelected candidate on the list with the second largest number of remainder votes from the last general election, will fill the vacancy. The proposed replacement mechanism reflects the overall will of the electors expressed through the general election. According to our understanding, by-elections are not used to return candidates to fill vacant seats of the legislature in some overseas jurisdictions. Instead, reference to the election result of the last general election will form the basis of returning a candidate to fill a vacancy.
In 2010, five LegCo Members resigned, leading to a by-elections in five geographical constituencies. It was considered by members of the public and some political parties as an unnecessary and significant drain on public resources totalling $126 million. The resources could have been deployed for other more productive purposes.
Even though all five legislators were returned in the by-elections, the 17% voter turnout rate in May last year was a record low. The record low voter turnout rate has clearly reflected that the public did not accept that legislators could resign at will to instigate the so-called "referendum". The proposed replacement mechanism could facilitate the speedy replacement of any vacant LegCo seat in order to maintain the integrity and operation of the LegCo and could also save public funds.
The proposed replacement arrangement will apply to situations (including resignation, death, disqualification of Members, etc.) specified under section 15 of the Legislative Council Ordinance and Article 79 of the Basic Law under which a vacancy of the LegCo arises. However, it does not apply to traditional FCs. A vacancy arising mid-term in the traditional FCs will be filled by a by-election.
As regards the operation of the proposed replacement arrangement, we propose that after a general election, the Returning Officer will publish a precedence list for each LegCo GC and the DC (second) FC. The candidates on the list are eligible to fill the vacancy in a descending order determined by the number of remaining votes secured by his respective list of candidates in the general election. The first candidate who has not yet been elected in the list with the largest number of remainder votes will fill a vacancy of the LegCo arising mid-term. Where necessary, other candidates on the precedence list can be approached in sequence to fill the vacancy. If the candidates on the precedence list has been exhausted, the Electoral Affairs Commission will hold a by-election to fill the vacancy. However, as such by-election does not adopt the proportional representation list voting system, another precedence list will not be produced. In order to ensure the fairness of the replacement mechanism, the Amendment Bill provides that candidates or electors can lodge an election petition regarding the precedence list compiled by the Returning Officer.
As the Bill provides for the new electoral arrangements for the fifth term of office of the LegCo, there is an urgency for the Bill to be scrutinised and debated as soon as possible. The reason is that time should be given for electors to understand that their votes to be cast in the LegCo election in September 2012 will have a "dual-effect"; aside from electing LegCo Members, the votes will be used to fill vacancies under the replacement mechanism. Also, persons who wish to stand in the DC election will also need to understand the replacement mechanism for the DC (second) FC in order to decide if they would take part in the election to be held in November this year. Therefore, I hope that the Bill will receive the support of Members and that it will be passed as soon as possible. We hope that, after the passage of the Bill, we will have a year's time to allow the Government to undertake public education and publicity on the replacement mechanism. This will ensure that electors will understand the "dual function" of their votes cast at the LegCo election as mentioned above.
As I have mentioned, the public did not accept that legislators could resign at will to instigate the so-called "referendum". The low voter turnout rate last year was a clear indication of their views. On May 17, the Government put forth the proposed replacement mechanism. On May 24, the Constitutional Affairs Panel of the LegCo discussed the proposal. After the first and second reading of the Legislative Council (Amendment) Bill 2011 today, the Government will continue to listen to the views of the Members and the public at the meetings of the Bills Committee.
Thank you, President.
Ends/Wednesday, June 8, 2011